Eight days before he defends his Wimbledon championship, Pete Sampras won his first title of 1999 by beating Tim Henman, 6-7, (7-1), 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), yesterday at Queen's Club in London.

Sampras, who reclaims the No. 1 ranking today, is honing his grass-court game in a bid for a sixth Wimbledon crown in seven years.

"My year has not been that great--a little bit up and down," he said. "It's nice to be back on the grass and, hopefully, I can do it again this year."

This was the second time Sampras has won the Queen's Club title. He outlasted Australia's Lleyton Hewitt in Saturday's semifinal.

"This week was a struggle," Sampras said. "I got through yesterday at 7-6 in the third and today 7-6 in the third. Tim was very close to beating me today and I feel a little bit fortunate. He was a point away from beating me."

Earlier in the day, Henman needed 11 minutes to close a semifinal against Sargis Sargsian. Play had been suspended overnight with Henman leading 3-2 in the second set. He went on to win, 6-1, 6-3.

Sampras, seeded second, won $85,000 for the title. Henman, seeded third and the hometown favorite, earned $50,000 in a match in which he failed on the seven break points he held. . . .

Nicholas Kiefer, who credits pole vaulter Sergei Bubka for improving his stamina and game, beat Nicklas Kulti, 6-3, 6-2, to win the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany. In capturing the $900,000 grass-court tune-up for Wimbledon, Kiefer won his third career title. . . .

Julie Halard-Decugis beat Cara Black in the semifinal, then outlasted defending champion and top seed Nathalie Tauziat, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, to win the DFS Classic in Birmingham, England. . . .

Unseeded Fernando Vicente won his first ATP tournament when he held off third-seeded Hicham Arazi in the finals of the Merano Open in Italy. Vicente won $46,000 after defeating Arazi, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (7-1). . . .

Top-seeded Anna Smashnova of Israel used a powerful backhand to win the President's Cup in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over third-seed Laurence Courtois of Belgium. . . .

Worried that her injured ankle might prevent her defending her title at Wimbledon, Jana Novotna decided not to defend the Eastbourne championship, which starts today in England.


Coles May Stay in IOC

Phil Coles could keep his seat on the International Olympic Committee while giving up his role with the 2000 Sydney Games.

That is the unusual compromise put forward by Olympic leaders in a bid to close the five-month controversy swirling around the Australian IOC member.

IOC sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the executive board proposed yesterday that Coles resign from the board of the Sydney organizing committee in exchange for being allowed to remain an IOC member.

Coles--who was censured in March for his role in the Salt Lake City scandal--has faced possible expulsion from the IOC for further alleged ethical misconduct, including compiling sensitive dossiers on his colleagues.

Track and Field

Surin Is Fastest in 100

Canadian Bruny Surin ran the fastest 100 meters of the year at the Nuremberg Track Festival in Germany after Donovan Bailey failed to qualify for the final. Surin won in 9.92 after breaking out of the blocks first and leading all the way. Bailey, another Canadian, was making his first appearance since he ruptured an Achilles' tendon warming up for a pickup basketball game last year.


Australia Wins

Australia battled its way into the semifinals of the World Cup with a five-wicket victory over South Africa in Leeds, England, led by captain Steve Waugh's undefeated 120. South Africa and Australia will play again in the second semifinal on Thursday; Pakistan and New Zealand play in the first semifinal on Wednesday.


Player Hurt by Explosive

An explosive thrown from the stands injured a goalkeeper during a third-division playoff game yesterday, the last day of the Italian soccer season.

Marco Borghetto of Lumezzane dropped to the ground after the device landed nearby during the second half of a 2-1 loss to Pistoia.

The goalie, 29, was taken to the hospital, and his injuries and condition were not immediately clear.

Lumezzane said it will protest the game, which determined a spot in Serie B and was played in Cremona, a neutral site.


Saturday Night Upset

With his eye swollen and trailing on the score cards, Byron Mitchell won the World Boxing Association super middleweight title when he stopped champion Frankie Liles in the 11th round of a scheduled 12-round fight in Wilmington, Mass., Saturday night.

Mitchell, of Ozark, Ala., knocked Liles down three times in the 11th round and referee Jerry Leone stopped the fight at 1 minute 17 seconds.

Mitchell (20-0, 16 knockouts) trailed 98-91 on two judges' cards and 98-92 on the third card.

In the co-feature, John Ruiz of Chelsea, Mass., retained the WBA North American heavyweight title by stopping Fernely Feliz. Referee Mike Ryan stopped the fight at the end of the seventh round on the advice of Feliz's corner.

Ruiz, 35-23 with 26 knockouts, won the title in September 1998 by stopping Washington's Jerry Ballard in four rounds in Atlanta. This was his second defense.

CAPTION: With a trophy in hand for winning the Queen's Club tournament, No. 1 Pete Sampras now is looking forward to defending his title at Wimbledon.